You may have heard some buzz about vitamin D and multiple sclerosis. There are some hopeful signs that it can ease your symptoms, but researchers still have a lot of work to do before we know for sure.
"There's no perfect study," says Matthew McCoyd, MD, an MS specialist at Loyola University Medical Center. But some research suggests several ways that vitamin D can be good for you, whether you have MS now or want to keep it at bay:
Slows down the disease. Researchers checked the symptoms of people in an early stage of MS. They found that after 5 years, those with more vitamin D in their blood had fewer problems.
Prevents MS. Studies show that children who get a lot of sunlight, which is one way to get vitamin D, are less likely to get the disease when they grow up.
Some research also shows that people who live away from the equator, where there's less sunlight, have a higher rate of MS.
It's not yet clear how vitamin D helps, McCoyd says. It may be good for your immune system. This is your body's defense against germs, and when you have MS, it isn't working right.
How Much Do I Need?
There's a lot of debate about how much vitamin D you should get each day. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests you aim for 200-600 international units (IU).
A blood test that checks your levels can tell you if you're on track.
Matthew Brennecke, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Fort Collins, CO, says most people get too little vitamin D, not just those with MS.
How Can I Boost My Levels?
Sunlight. Try to get 10-15 minutes a day. But don't overdo it, since too much sun raises your risk of skin cancer.
Food. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines have vitamin D. There are also small amounts in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
Sometimes vitamins and minerals are added to foods that don't naturally have them. Look for the words "fortified with vitamin D" on the label. You can find it on things like:
- Orange juice
Should I Take Supplements?
Experts have different opinions about this. Some say go ahead and take a reasonable amount, since it won't hurt you. But keep it under 10,000 IU a day. Supplements with levels that are too high can be risky.
Other experts say it isn’t worth it, since there's not enough research to prove vitamin D eases symptoms or prevents MS. More important, they say we don't know which dose is best or safest.
So get your doctor's advice before you take vitamin D pills. And don't forget, they’re not a substitute for your regular medicine. You still need your meds to stay healthy and fight your MS symptoms.